I was coming home from Sydney in the bus and, as we rolled down Northbourne Avenue, a conversation broke out about light rail. As most people are either still asleep, on their smartphones or plugged into one device or another, any sort of conversation at this point of the trip is unusual. But the choice […]
It’s often said that in order to manage something, you need to be able to measure it. When it comes to making public policy though, even measurement is rarely straightforward. Far from being clean, crisp and unambiguous, the numbers become political. Take climate change, for example. Like most people, I am inclined to think there […]
My dad was an engineer, in the electronics business. He despaired of what we would now call the political class – the politicians and their advisers who periodically blew the ‘high tech’ trumpet and then did nothing to follow through. The politicians expected the businesses to be there when the country needed them, but the […]
Given its importance to our economy and society, there is surprisingly little discussion of the pros and cons of immigration. The one exception, of course, is boat people. For the number of people involved, or even likely to be involved, we were, until the flow stopped, obsessed by the threat of people arriving on our […]
One of the first people I met when I came to Canberra, more than 30 years ago now, was a public housing tenant. Let’s call her Patricia. Patricia was a formidable lady from Cooma (a source of many formidable people). She was a widow and she worked full-time. She didn’t earn much but it was […]
Managers are advised to be decisive. But, sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.
Policy agendas are curious beasts. There are always more ideas running around than most political systems can process, so some “get up” while others are overlooked or ignored. When it comes to implementation, the channelling process can be even more selective. Take climate change, for example. Scientists have been raising the alarm about it for […]
On the western fringes of Belconnen, a new development project, Ginninderry, is taking shape. The development will see more than 5000 houses built within the ACT and (ultimately) a similar number across the border in NSW. While the developers have consulted extensively with residents of the adjoining Belconnen suburbs, few Canberrans will be familiar with […]
There is no doubt that plebiscites are powerful indicators of public opinion. As the Brexit vote showed, when the people speak in this way, it is impossible to ignore. Paradoxically, the power of plebiscites to address highly charged issues, may also be an argument against them. Here in Australia, Labor and the Greens opposed a […]
In the year 2000, Colombian politician and academic Oscar Tulio Lizcano was kidnapped by the guerilla organisation known as the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and spent almost 3000 days in captivity in the jungle. Eventually, with the aid of one of his captors, he managed to escape, and emerged, exhausted, muddy, and […]
I am not sure which is worse – when politicians deliver on their election promises, or when they don’t. Over the past few weeks, the major parties in the ACT (if we are to believe them) have committed enough funds to send the territory budget into fiscal overdrive for years to come. Health, which at […]
One of the great joys of living in Canberra is its setting. Most of us are familiar with the blue silhouette of the Brindabellas. But equally important are the ridgelines and wooded slopes of the National Capital Open Space System and, to the west and south-west of the city, the varied scenery of farms and […]
An old professor of mine once said that when engaging in public policy debates, it was important to engage each side’s arguments at their best, rather than their worst. Considered from this vantage point, how should we evaluate the arguments, pro and con for Canberra’s tram?
While decluttering recently (it’s been that sort of summer), I re-discovered a little booklet put out by the Commonwealth Greenhouse Office in 2000 called Global Warming: cool it. While the Greenhouse Office has long since gone to the bureaucratic graveyard and global warming has morphed into climate change, the booklet is full of wise advice about […]
January is a good month to be in Canberra. The weather is warm and the streets are quieter than usual, as most of the population has left for the South Coast. Indeed the quietness of the streets is a useful reminder as to just how car-dependent our city is. It is a dependence that Labor […]
When I taught public policy, one of the key ideas I tried to put across, was that when you create a public policy, you create a system, and vice versa. One of the reasons, I argued, that policies often produced surprising effects was that the links between different parts of these systems were not well-understood.
Governments necessarily operate bureaucratically, which means that the types of systems they run are disguised by the myriad classes and classifications they use to process reality. Usually, the insiders know what is going on, although for those in government trying to keep control of it all, it may take time to catch up with some effects. But for those on the outside, it is much more difficult to piece the data together.
There are essentially two kinds of novel set in the past. In the first, we follow the fortunes of a real person, such as Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist of Hilary Mantel’s celebrated trilogy. This is a flexible genre, in which the portrait does not have to be accurate to be convincing: witness Peter Carey’s brilliant impersonation of Ned Kelly in True history of the Kelly gang. These works stand or fall according to the psychological interest they create.
Canberra’s Mr Fluffy disaster reminds us how very bad governments can be at managing risk. The decision, 25 years ago, to attempt to remove all the asbestos from roof cavities seems both too little and too much – too little, because as we now know, loose fibres remained, and too much, because in seeking to eliminate the risk, the governments of the day were simply creating further problems in the future.
While at the everyday level the ties could hardly be closer, Australians and New Zealanders take little notice of each other when it comes to politics. New Zealand’s recent general election, which resulted in the return to power of National party leader John Key, attracted little attention this side of the Tasman. Yet there is much to be learned, in both political and policy terms, from our Kiwi neighbours.